BMCR 2015.08.25

Scholae discimus: pratiques scolaires dans l’Antiquité tardive et le Haut Moyen Âge. Collection Études et Recherches sur l’Occident Romain – CEROR, 46

, , , Scholae discimus: pratiques scolaires dans l'Antiquité tardive et le Haut Moyen Âge. Collection Études et Recherches sur l’Occident Romain - CEROR, 46. Lyon: CEROR, 2014. 332. ISBN 9782364420533. €36.00 (pb).

[Authors and titles are listed at the end of the review.]

At first glance this seems to be a book in French about what went on in late antique and early medieval schools, but appearances can be deceptive. Most of the book (sixteen of nineteen chapters) is in Italian, and its focus is not really on what happened in schools. Rather this is a collection of studies of specific scholarly texts, mostly commentaries to literary works (Terence, Virgil, Horace, Lucan, and Statius) but also Priscian, the epigrams of Isidore of Seville, and a few other ‘grammatical’ works. Some of these texts were designed to be used by children in schools, but others belonged primarily to a more advanced level of scholarship. And the questions asked here about these texts are (appropriately, given the short length of most chapters) nearly all specific and scholarly ones, not considerations of how the texts might have been used in a school setting; these studies can advance the frontiers of knowledge about the texts under investigation, but not, to any significant extent, knowledge about ancient schooling per se. Moreover only Latin texts are included: Greek-speaking education with its rich literary, papyrological, and archaeological evidence is ignored. So a more accurate title for this book might have been Aspetti di commenti letterari e trattati grammaticali latini nella tarda antichità e nel medioevo ‘Aspects of Latin literary commentaries and grammatical treatises in the late antique and medieval periods’.

The short introduction makes a valiant effort to bridge the gap between the book’s actual title and its contents, pointing out that ancient schoolchildren in ‘l’école de grammaire’ (the grammarian’s school, which was attended by children at an early stage of their education: the editors clearly intended ‘school’ to be taken in its normal sense of a place where children are sent to be educated) studied grammar and literature, often using some of the scholarly texts discussed in this book. It also explains that the quotation scholae discimus in the book’s title is taken from the younger Seneca, who asserted that non vitae, sed scholae discimus ‘we learn not as preparation for life, but as preparation for school’ ( Epistulae 106.12). Seneca intended this statement as a complaint that the real purpose of Roman education, preparation for life, had become lost in a mass of useless literary exercises, but the editors of this book reinterpret the quotation positively, arguing that the acquisition of knowledge is an end in itself. Indeed it is, but that argument is an odd one to make in an introduction; it almost looks like a reference to the mismatch between the book’s title and its contents. That mismatch does not look as though it was accidental: the contents of the book form a well-focused, coherent whole too convincing to have been produced by a failed attempt to gather contributions on schooling in late antiquity. Could publishing or marketing pressures have caused the book to be presented as something other than what it is? If so a disservice has been done to the authors, and above all to readers interested in the material this book actually contains.

The individual chapters in the book are largely what they claim to be. Claudio Buongiovanni’s chapter ‘L’uso degli avverbi bene ed eleganter nel commento di Porfirione al terzo libro dei Carmina di Orazio’, for example, examines the seven examples of bene and five examples of eleganter used by Pomponius Porphyrio in his commentary on the third book of Horace’s Odes. This is not a large corpus, and given the ease with which word searches can now be conducted one cannot help wondering why Buongiovanni chose to confine his researches to this portion of the commentary: would the other books have provided examples similar to those in the third book and therefore supported his conclusions more convincingly? Or do they contain counterexamples? At any rate, Buongiovanni observes that bene (also opportune and merito, which function as equivalents of bene) has an ethical force and concerns the content of Horace’s lines, while eleganter (also mire and belle, which function as equivalents of eleganter), always a positive term for Porphyrio despite its earlier pejorative meaning, has an aesthetic force and concerns the phrasing used by Horace. All the adverbs considered reflect the commentator’s subjective perspective; comments using them are fundamentally different in approach from those containing factual statements about issues of text and interpretation, which of course are also made by Porphyrio.

Fabio Stok’s chapter ‘Esegesi antiche della sesta egloga’ examines ancient commentary on Virgil’s sixth Eclogue: another restricted corpus, but this time the restriction is explained and justified in terms of work already done on other Eclogues and the need for in-depth study of a small body of text in order to establish the relationship of different strands of interpretation. Stok focuses on specific points such as the identification of the dedicatee Varus (lines 7, 10, and 12) and the meaning of canerem reges et proelia in line 3; he is particularly interested in the divergence between ‘Augustan’ and ‘Epicurean’ strands of interpretation. Stok concludes that the extant ancient commentaries (Servius, Servius Danielinus, the Scholia Veronensia, Pseudo-Probus, Philargyrius, and the Scholia Bernensia) derive from a source (probably the commentary of Donatus) that included multiple interpretations of individual passages. Servius often chose one or another interpretation, and when he did so some of the other ancient commentators tended to follow his choice. They did not all do so, however, and in his choice of the ‘Epicurean’ rather than ‘Augustan’ line of interpretation of the poem Servius was particularly distinctive among commentators. Servius may not even have known about the ‘Empedoclean’ interpretive strand preserved in Pseudo-Probus.

Paolo Esposito’s chapter ‘Aspetti della presenza di Lucrezio nella scoliastica lucanea’ examines the little-known body of ancient scholarship to Lucan, particularly the Adnotationes super Lucanum and the Commenta Bernensia. In these texts he finds four references to Lucretius and a further eight to Epicurei or Epicurus himself; all these references explicitly name the philosophers, and there may also be other, more implicit references without names. All twelve references are quoted and discussed with their contexts, making this chapter a useful collection of material; Esposito suggests that a study of this type could also form a starting point for examining how philosophical works are treated in the scholia to Lucan.

Luca Cardinali’s chapter ‘A proposito della cronologia e dell’origine di Lattanzio Placido: osservazioni sulla questione’ concerns the ancient scholarship on Statius, which is attributed to an otherwise unknown Lactantius Placidus. Cardinali examines the different theories that have been put forward for the geographical origin of Lactantius Placidus and finds none of them convincing; many parts of Western Europe would be plausible. But with regard to chronology, which is more central to the chapter, he places Lactantius Placidus in the second half of the fifth century or the first decades of the sixth.

Marc Baratin’s chapter ‘À qui s’adresse Priscien? Pédagogie et bilinguisme dans l’Antiquité tardive’ argues that Priscian in composing his Latin grammar addressed multiple audiences: most overtly his student and copyist Flavius Theodorus, but also the students in Priscian’s Latin classes, who were members of the Greek-speaking elite in sixth-century Constantinople and aspired to the bilingualism traditionally needed for certain high-level administrative offices. Baratin also suggests that Latin speakers in Italy (who were after all responsible for the preservation of Priscian’s grammar, as during the middle ages they found it useful enough to be worth copying) could have formed a third potential audience in Priscian’s mind. Few would quarrel with the conclusions of this chapter, but some will think that it would have benefitted from setting Priscian’s grammar in its larger context: Priscian’s students and the institution in which he operated were part of the Greek-speaking educational tradition, and the grammar makes more sense in the light of what we know about how Greek-speaking education operated in the late antique period. For example, Baratin opens the chapter with an apparent paradox, that on the one hand since treatises are addressed to those who are interested in their contents the detail, difficulty, and ambition of Priscian’s work suggests a highly educated audience, but on the other hand a school text would seem to aim at beginners (‘un texte scolaire sera présumé s’adresser à un public novice’, p. 35). But Priscian’s grammar was not a school text: previous work on Latin-learning in the Greek East has demonstrated conclusively that Greek speakers did not learn Latin as children at school, but only later in life, at institutions of higher education more equivalent to our universities in the age and sophistication of the students.1 Priscian is known to have taught in such an institution;2 his students were already highly educated in Greek and, as there were fourteen other Latin professors at the university in Constantinople, there is no reason to assume that Priscian’s students were beginners even in Latin. This chapter would also have benefitted from consideration of the way that Priscian’s work fits into a centuries-long tradition of Latin grammars written in Latin for Greek speakers: Priscian’s decision to write in Latin rather than in the language his students would find easier to understand was not one he made independently, for ancient grammars were always written in the language being described, however inconvenient that might seem from the user’s perspective.3

In sum, much of the work presented in this book is good in itself, just not quite what the title would lead one to expect. However, some chapters could have benefitted from a broader perspective and/or a larger corpus of data.

Table of Contents

Introduction (Louis Holtz)
Artes Grammaticae
Gli epigrammi di Isidoro di Siviglia nei materiali grammaticali altomedievali (Paulo Farmhouse Alberto)
À qui s’adresse Priscien? Pédagogie et bilinguisme dans l’Antiquité tardive (Marc Baratin)
Haec musicae summa sunt : Ps. Cens. frg. 12 (Lucio Cristante)
‘Manuali brevi’ di metrica latina e caratteristiche d’autore: con anticipazioni sul De arte metrica di Marziano Capella (Mario De Nonno)

Ad Terentium
La Néa de Donat: les restes d’Apollodore de Caryste dans le commentaire à Térence (Christian Nicolas)
Ad Vergilium
Glosse di Tiberio Claudio Donato nel ‘Virgilio di Tours’: problemi e prospettive II (Luigi Pirovano)
Il punto sull’edizione del Commento di Servio a Virgilio: osservazioni su Serv. ad Aen. VI e l’edizione di E. Jeunet-Mancy (Giuseppe Ramires)
I commentatori virgiliani e il concetto di imperium (Marisa Squillante)
Esegesi antiche della sesta egloga (Fabio Stok)
Ad Horatium
L’uso degli avverbi bene ed eleganter nel commento di Porfirione al terzo libro dei Carmina di Orazio (Claudio Buongiovanni)
Le ‘ambiguità’ del poeta e del grammatico: Porfirione lettore di Orazio (Laura Capozzi)
Il corpus pseudoacroniano: lemmi, citazioni, tradizione indiretta (Concetta Longobardi)
Ad Lucanum
Aspetti della presenza di Lucrezio nella scoliastica lucanea (Paolo Esposito)
Referimenti astronomici nella scoliastica lucanea: Atreo, Tieste e il carro del Sole (Simona Musso)
La presenza di Solino e di Isidoro nel Supplementum Adnotationum super Lucanum e nei Commenta Bernensia (Raffaella Tabacco)
Ad Statium
Le auctoritates linguistiche nel commento di Lattanzio Placido alla Tebaide di Stazio (Antonella Arena)
A proposito della cronologia e dell’origine di Lattanzio Placido: osservazioni sulla questione (Luca Cardinali)
Scoliastica staziana: Lattanzio Placido e le due ultime edizioni (Carlo Santini)


1. See e.g. B. Rochette, Le latin dans le monde grec (Brussels 1997) p. 210.

2. See e.g. B. Rochette, Le latin dans le monde grec (Brussels 1997) pp. 141-2.

3. Dositheus’ Latin grammar forms a partial exception to this rule, being accompanied by a partial Greek translation, but even this translation was intended as an aid to reading the Latin, not a replacement for it: the translation is not comprehensible in isolation and appears only in certain sections of the grammar.